In Italy, we call “meteora” (meteor) a football player who lives a short period of glory before fading away, back into anonymity. The World Cup is full of such stories, of players who in some way managed to find their edge right during those 30 days, once in four years, when the whole world revolves around a foot ball. They shone on the most important stage, and then quickly turned back into regular journeymen, or even worse disappeared from the calcio che conta (“football that matters”). Like a broken spell. Like a dream from which they suddenly woke up.
Antonio Guarini takes us through a journey among the Top 10 “one-hit-wonders” in the recent history of the World Cup. Some of them helped Italy climb to the top of the world, some others recall painful memories for the Azzurri. But all share the same fascinating meteora status, all found the magic formula to sparkle and shine just when it mattered most.
They may not have been Ballon d’Or winning champions, but we are sure that these names will ring a bell or two to all football lovers.
6) Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Mexican Juggler of France 1998
When you manage to give your name to a specific trick, it means you have made it to the history of football. Raise your hands, those who don’t remember the cuauhtéminha, a feat that enabled you to dash past your opponents with the ball tied between your feet.
This is what Cuauhtémoc Blanco showed during World Cup 1998 in France. It doesn’t matter that his Mexico’s run ended in the Round of 16 against Jurgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff’s Germany. With that name sounding like an Aztec emperor, and that trick with the ball between his feet, Blanco earned a place in the memory of all football fans.
122 caps and 39 goals scored for him with the Tricolores, during a career mostly spent in the Country of sombrero, except for a short stint with Valladolid in Spain, between 2000 and 2002. Together with Luis Hernández, Blanco formed a stunning attacking line for Mexico. He is the only Mexican to have scored in three different World Cup editions (1998, 2002, and 2010), and the third oldest player to have ever scored in a world championship – at 37 years and 5 months – behind Sweden’s Gunnar Gren, and all-time record-man Roger Milla from Cameroon.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco was a talented player, probably capable of making a good career even in Europe. If only he had a different personality. Blanco did like life outside the pitch, his excesses often overshadowing his genius. Still, that didn’t prevent him from leaving an indelible trace during France 1998. Together with Zinedine Zidane’s double in the Final, and Ronaldo’s blank face that same night, people will always remember that guy who used to dribble his opponents with the ball between his feet.
Now, if truth be told, the cuauhtéminha was an illegal move. But no referee ever had the courage to disallow such an original trick. Of course, who would have liked to do that?
Translated by Matteo Carnevale
Check out the other World Cup Meteors in our countdown:
10) Ahn Jung-Hwan, Italy’s Korean Killer
9) Stephan Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion
8) Asamoah Gyan’s Penalty Nightmare
7) Yordan Letchkov, the Bulgarian Who Made Germany Cry